Saturday, July 13, 1985

U2 gave a career-making performance of “Bad” at Live Aid



Writer(s): U2 (music), Bono (lyrics) (see lyrics here)

Released: October 1, 1984 (as album cut on The Unforgettable Fire)

First Charted: August 24, 1985

Peak: 19 AR, 3 CO, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 47.5 video, -- streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Bad” can arguably be called U2’s breakthrough moment – specifically their performance of the song at Live Aid on July 13, 1985. Their 12-minute performance of the song at the star-packed concert shown a global spotlight on the band then known mostly for “Pride (In the Name of Love),” their only U.S. top-40 hit. Not only did Bono come down off the stage to help a fan who was being crushed by the crowd, W1 but he showcased his star power, energy, and enthusiasm in capturing an audience of 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London with an anthemic performance of a song about heroin.

Bono has given varying accounts over the years regarding the exact inspiration for the song, saying, among other things that “I wrote the song for a friend of mine; He has said the song is about a friend who died of a heroin overdose, but on another occasion said, “I also wrote it for myself because you can be addicted to anything. And, you know, that song’s not just about: it’s about a lot of things.” W1 At a performance in Pittsburgh in 2011, he said it was about “a very special man, who is here in your city.” W1

He’s also talked about it without reference to any specific person, saying of a lot of teens who fell victim to the heroin epidemic in Dublin in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that “they gave up everything they held sacred to this drug…I tried to describe that with the song…what it was like to feel that rush, that elation, and then to go on to the nod, the awful sleep that comes with that drug, and then scream: ‘I’m wide awake, I’m wide awake, I’m not sleeping!’ I can see what’s going on.” SF

The studio version of the song was criticized as “unfinished” and “unfocused,” but it made more sense on sense. Rolling Stone called the live version a “show stopper.” W1 The song was originally released on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, but an eight-minute live recording of the song was released on the 1985 EP Wide Awake in America. This latter version, recorded at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England on November 12, 1984, W2 was the one which garnered radio airplay.


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First posted 7/15/2021; last updated 10/28/2022.

Live Aid: July 13, 1985

Originally posted July 13, 2011.

On July 13, 1985, an estimated 1.9 billion people in 150 nations watched the broadcast of Live Aid. It “was the most ambitious international satellite television venture that had ever been attempted at the time“. WK Musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organized the star-studded concerts, held simultaneously in London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium. The two venues attracted 72,000 and 100,000 fans respectively.

Geldof, best known for the U.K. #1 song “I Don’t Like Mondays” with his group the Boomtown Rats, was dismayed by the plight of starving Ethiopians after seeing a BBC documentary. Determined to make a difference, he had assembled some of Britain’s biggest musical stars the previous winter for the charity recording “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, written by Geldof and Ure. The song became, at the time, the best-selling record ever in the UK. HE

Highlights included reunions of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. U2’s performance, “established them as a pre-eminent live group for the first time”. WK Queen’s 20-minute set has been called “the greatest live performance in the history of rock music”. WK

Also of note were Paul McCartney’s performance of “Let It Be”, followed by an all-star gathering to close out the London concert with “Christmas”. Stateside, the concert closed with the U.S. response to that song, USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”.

A planned duet between Mick Jagger and David Bowie – one on each coast – had to be scrapped because it was too complicated. Instead, they recorded a duet version of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” and the video was shown at both venues. Phil Collins made news by performing at both venues. He hopped a Concorde after his Wembley appearance and jetted overseas to Philadelphia.

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